Serotonin induces or inhibits neuritic regeneration of leech CNS neurons depending on neuronal identity

Recovery of motor function after central nervous system (CNS) injury is dependent on the regeneration capacity of the nervous system, which is a multifactorial process influenced, among other things, by the role of neuromodulators such as serotonin. The neurotransmitter serotonin can promote neuronal regeneration but there are also reports of it causing restriction, so it is important to clarify these divergent findings in order to understand the direct scope and side effects of potential pharmacological treatments. We evaluated the effect of serotonin on the extent of neuritic outgrowth and morphology of three different neuronal types in the leech Haementeria officinalis during their regeneration in vitro: Retzius interneurons (Rz), annulus erector (AE) motoneurons, and anterolateral number 1 (AL1) CNS neurons. Neurons were isolated and cultured in L15 medium, with or without serotonin. Growth parameters were registered and quantified, and observed differences were analyzed. The addition of serotonin was found to induce AL1 neurons to increase their average growth dramatically by 8.3-fold (P=0.02; n=5), and to have no clear effect on AE motoneurons (P=0.44; n=5). For Rz interneurons, which normally do not regenerate their neurites, the addition of concanavaline-A causes substantial growth, which serotonin was found to inhibit on average by 98% (P=0.02; n=5). The number of primary neurites and their branches were also affected. These results reveal that depending on the neuronal type, serotonin can promote, inhibit, or have no effect on neuronal regeneration. This suggests that after CNS injury, non-specific pharmacological treatments affecting serotonin may have different effects on different neuronal populations.